Week Ten Wrap-Up: Christmas Light-Ups and Christmas Markets and Christmas Carols

ChristmasThe number of weeks I’ve been here has hit the double digits! And the temperatures here have finally broken into the single digit range so at last I felt like it was acceptable to break out my “winter” coat. Back home, I’m used to saving my winter coat for when it’s absolutely a necessity because if you start wearing your winter jacket when it’s only kind of cold and not freezing cold, you’ll have nothing warm enough to wear when it’s freezing cold. I don’t think I really needed to apply this mentality here in Exeter but some habits die hard.

I believe it’s also acceptable to announce to the world that the Christmas season has official descended! We had a light-up ceremony on Thursday in Princesshay, which is like the central shopping district/square; it was all very exciting and lots of good fun. I’m not sure if we have these light-up ceremonies back home; I feel like we would and I’ve just never paid enough attention to know that they were going on. I’ll have to make a note to keep a lookout for it next year. I feel like I keep saying I’ll do all these things once I get back and it’s all just going to amass into this one big list; perhaps I’m better off saying that I’ll go back home and try and be a little bit more of a tourist instead of subtly avoiding it.

At the light-up ceremony, they gave out red antlers, these things called z-bands which would light up if the MC decided he wanted to light them up with his all-powerful remote control, and lots of really great live music. I discovered a new folk/rock duo (Sound of the Sirens, check them out!) that I really like so that was a plus. It was a great night and now every time I walk through city centre, everything is all lit up and it’s beautiful. I love the holiday season and seeing the lights and the decorations just makes everything festive and all the more real, and that always puts a little extra bounce in my step.

To keep the Christmas theme rolling, Exeter’s Christmas market started up this week too. Christmas markets seem to be a really big thing over here and they seem to be everywhere. It must be nice with each different place putting a different spin on their own markets. I’d never really known Christmas markets to be much of a thing back home but suddenly, now I keep seeing them pop up all over back home too. It’s a little odd but I’m also glad I will have Christmas markets to look forward to at home next year.

They have so many cool little knick-knacks for sale and so many of the items are really unique and fun – it definitely makes Christmas shopping easier. I mostly browsed around all the stalls to get a feel for what was around. Towards the end of the night, I did get myself a bag of hot chestnuts, which made me very pleased. Sitting there with my bag of chestnuts with the Christmas Market around me, listening to “Let It Snow”, it really dawned on me that the holiday season had begun.

The weekend rounded itself off most beautifully with weather that was pure perfection. I made the most of it by going out for something of a walk (it lasted about 4 hours though so I’m not sure if it really counted as a walk). I was quite grateful I didn’t have to coop myself inside to do research and fill up blank Word documents with words and quotes this weekend and miss out on such loveliness. Once again, Exeter reminded me of its magnificence and it is small moments like these that really make the thought of leaving hard. At the same time though, I guess I can think of it as incentive to come back to this place and all its splendor.

Week Nine Wrap-Up: Movies and Music Stash and Moments of Reflection

Compared with the last couple of weeks, I think this week’s recap is going to sound far less exciting. It wasn’t that it was a slow week, far from it actually, but I did more sitting down to hammer away at my papers than spelunking and adventuring. All in all, it was a rather stressful week, but there were still a number of highlights.

I went to see Spectre this week and it was the very first James Bond movie I’d ever seen. It was a decent movie but I’m not sure if it’s really my cup of tea. I also discovered the incredible deliciousness of sweet and salty popcorn. Back home, we just have…popcorn and you can choose to add butter but no such thing as sweet popcorn exists. I was a little excited about this novelty to say the least. My friend who came with me told me that they have sweet and salty popcorn back in Singapore too; I think I need to pitch this to movie concessions when I get back. We’re totally missing out.

The thing that really stands out for this movie-going occasion is that I finally went to the Odeon, which is, literally, a three-minute walk away from my accommodation. What’s also really special about it is that the theatre has been in Exeter since 1937; it survived the world wars and the Blitz, and to my knowledge, it’s the only theatre of that time in Exeter to have done so. The venue was different from the Odeon in Scotland that I poked my head into as well as the Cameo, and very different from the theatres I’m used to at home. It was smaller overall (although I’ve heard that there are different screen and room sizes in the theatre, another thing I’m not used to) but it was still a nice atmosphere. The seats seemed comfier too, but as always, I wished that they came with a little popcorn holder. I’m really surprised no one has acted much on that idea, but perhaps I’m the only person who thinks that popcorn holders are something of a necessity. Or maybe people just don’t eat popcorn much at the theatres nowadays.

I think a lot of the time, we get sucked into the mindset that if we’re in a place for a long time, we end up taking some things for granted. It’s sort of like when you live near a tourist-y landmark or some kind of attraction; you don’t really take the time to go out and see it even though it’s right there. You get stuck with the mentality of thinking that it will continue to always be there and there will always be a chance for you to go see it and you just keep pushing it off. Now that I’m really starting to feel the end of my exchange come up (there are only 4 more weeks of study!), I’m trying to get out of that rut and do all the things I keep thinking I can push off.

At this week’s concert band rehearsal, sweaters and polo shirts came in, so I am now a proud owner of an Exeter University Concert Band sweater. It’s quite spiffy I would say and for me, it’s a really nice memento of my time here and my concert band experience. Here, they call club uniforms and sweaters and such “stash.” I don’t mean to offend but I just think it’s the most bizarre thing. Stash. I don’t think I can ever call any piece of clothing I own, stash. Stash is either a verb or a noun in the sense that you have something of a hoard of something…but clothing isn’t stash. That’s one thing I don’t think I can really get behind. I guess at home, our equivalent of “stash” is “swag,” but frankly, I find that quite odd as well. So I’m just going to stick to the generic term of sweaters and shirts.

The latter half of last week, a number of tragedies struck that resonated with me a lot more, being in the UK than being at home. When I’m in Canada, there’s literally an entire ocean that separates me from a lot of the horror that goes on and somehow, that makes it seem less real for me. Here though, there’s only a channel that separates me from the events and everything about the disasters hits much closer to home, figuratively and literally. The attacks on Beirut, Baghdad, and Paris are awful and my heart goes out to everyone who has been affected in any kind of way. I don’t think I can say that I can truly comprehend their grief and trauma, but I hope they can find reconciliation and peace in some form once again.

On ne peut pas expliquer les raisons pour les tragédies comme celles-ci et j’admette que c’est difficile d’accepter toutes les conséquences qui les accompagnent. Cependant, j’espère que tout le monde peut faire face à ce désastre avec le courage et la solidité. De plus, j’espère que le monde, comme une coopérative, peut poursuivre un chemin où on ne doit pas être témoin des actes de terrorisme.

Week Eight Wrap-Up: Turning Points and Twinkle Lights and Tar Barrels

IMG_3604 - bonfireThe term is half over and my time is Exeter has reached its midway point – that’s crazy! I think right now, I’m at that weird stage where I’m thinking, I have all these things I still want to do and not enough time to do them, time needs to slow down. At the same time, I’m in the midst of essay season right now and all the work is piling up on me and then I think, it’s okay, it’ll all be over soon, I just have to push through for a little while longer. It’s a bit of a strange in-between to be in.

After my last week of travelling, I will admit it was a little strange to be back in class, especially the Monday. Having a pen in my hand again felt quite weird and I found myself having to reorient myself a lot in class to fit the mindset of being in a lecture. Tiredness also blanketed much of my week, but talk of upcoming deadlines very quickly made sure that I knew quite clearly that I was back in university and I needed to get my head back in the game.

Essay season also means that it’s concert season coming up again soon and I’m really excited for it. I play in two different music ensembles and the planned concert venues for both sound pretty great. And to round off the seasons, the holiday season has descended upon Exeter. I see all the lights starting to be hung up around the city and the storefronts have already transformed their window displays to exude holiday cheer. Also, Christmas markets seem to be a really big thing here and I’m seeing lots of advertisements for that. I definitely want to experience one for myself and see what all the hubbub is about. I feel like overall, Europe is quite lavish with the holidays and all the decorations and everything – there’s absolutely a different feel to it and I’m looking forward to being here to experience it.

I also experienced my first bonfire night ever this week and went to Ottery St. Mary’s tar barrels. Ottery St. Mary is this quaint little village that upholds the tradition of townspeople carrying flaming tar barrels through the street. Yup, people literally run up and down the streets with flaming tar barrels and it’s every bit as crazy as you imagine it to be but it’s also quite incredible at the same time. It’s hard to explain the extraordinariness of it – it really is something that needs to be experienced. I saw one of the men after they had finished and despite wearing protective gear and such, they did get burned some and I’d imagine it to be just a little exhausting. For them though, it’s a tradition and way of life, and it’s definitely an honour to be nominated to take part in this. Ottery is the only town in the country that gets to do this, so that in itself is pretty remarkable.

It was also really cool for me to see a real live bonfire; I mean, I’d seen campfires before but that really has nothing on a bonfire. Bonfire night originated in the 1600s; in the November of 1605, there was a Gunpowder Plot in which a group wanted to blow up parliament with explosives. Guy Fawkes, one of the conspirators who was charged with guarding the explosives, was caught, and the plot was ultimately unsuccessful. People lit up bonfires around the city to celebrate this and the tradition has carried through. I remarked to my British friends here that I’d never seen a bonfire before and they looked at me quite incredulously; I found their reactions pretty amusing but then again, I must have looked the same way when they told me they’d never heard of portable heaters.

My floor did a couple things together this week with a pasta night as well as a wine and cheese. Those were lots of fun and it really makes me feel like we should do more of these sort of get-togethers. I’m thinking perhaps pizza at the Old Firehouse should be our next little thing. It’s crazy to think that in a couple of few short weeks, we’re going to be off on our own separate ways and that’ll be it. There are just all these little things that remind me how exchange is going to be coming to an end soon, but I’m trying not to dwell on them too much – I just have to live in the moment and make the most of everything!

Week Seven Wrap-Up – Exhaustion and Elation and Experiences of a Lifetime

The past little bit has been an absolute whirlwind. I took off early the Friday before last to embark on my escapades to Scotland and I just got back this Monday. It is a little disorientating to say the least, going from something of a self-proclaimed world traveller back to full-time student. I’m not sure if I have all my wits about me so hopefully what I write from here on out will be coherent. I do have a large coffee sitting beside me so that should help.

It feels so good to have a keyboard under my fingers again. Throughout my trip, I’d been making notes on my phone so I wouldn’t forget things, but typing on my little phone keyboard frustrates me no end so I’m thankful to have the luxury of my computer keyboard. It’s also a little foreign because I’ve been estranged from it for so long (…I sound like I’m addicted to my computer…which I may be a little). However, I’m sure I’ll become familiar with it again quite quickly as I need to start making essays appear on my currently very blank word documents. The play hard bit just finished up so it’s probably the work hard bit’s turn.

I’m pretty sure I could write entire novels for each of the 10 days I was away, but that wouldn’t be very practical. I’ll put a little synopsis of the things we saw and/or did each day so you get a taste of what it encompassed and you can end up with an overall, brief (or as brief as I am capable) summary of my trip. Full, novella-esque entries along with pictures for each day are available, so if a certain day happens to catch your fancy, you can read about it if it so pleases you. I would like to say I was a very good tourist and ticked off many of the tourist must-do’s when I was away, but you can be the ultimate judge of that.

I was incredibly fortunate that the sun decided the join me on the entirety of my trip – the weather was absolutely beautiful pretty much every day. I only remember a 10 minute interval of showers once throughout the whole of my trip, so it was fantastic. I was away for a grand total of ten days but thinking back, it feels like I was gone for weeks. I saw so much, experienced so many different things, and met and caught up with such amazing people. Travelling really does broaden your horizons, changes your perspectives, and opens your eyes to so many things. Work-wise, I might be doing a little more catch-up than I had bargained for originally but I’m going to be so bold as to say that it’s absolutely worth it. My trip was bookended by a severe lack of sleep but I definitely have to say it’s well worth it. Thinking back, I can hardly believe I did so much and what’s more, I can hardly believe it actually happened.

10 days. 2 countries. 4 cities. 910 photographs. 3250km of travel. One incredible experience.

Friday October 23rd, 2015 – Exeter/Bristol to Edinburgh
I had met a fellow Canadian several weeks back on that weekend trip to Bath and we got along quite well so we made the decision to do some travelling together. She was an incredible travel companion and we shared a number of common interests so that made it easy when it came to planning to go around together to different places.

For me, this day seemed like it went on forever because the sleep thing was totally getting to me. You could say that the day technically started on Thursday because we caught the overnight bus to Bristol airport and from there, took one of those inhumanely early flights to Edinburgh and so when we got there, Friday had just started. It was great in that we really got to make the most out of our time, but I remember thinking that the day would never end. I was quite impressed with the number of things we managed to see; personally, I was a little sceptical about staying upright for the whole day. The summary of our sightseeing is as follows:
• National Monument of Scotland
• Nelson Monument
• Scott Monument
• St. Giles Church
• Bookstores
• Edinburgh Castle
• Riddle Grave
• The Elephant House (a.k.a. where J.K. Rowling started writing Harry Potter)

Saturday October 24th – Edinburgh
Feeling far more refreshed the next day with a good night’s rest, we continued making headway on our Scotland itinerary. I will have to say I was much chipper and I felt like I was able to appreciate Scotland a little more. Highlights for this day are as listed:
• The Writers’ Museum
• Museum of Scotland
• Haggis!
• National Library of Scotland
• Weekend Market
• Macbeth at the Cameo Theatre

Sunday October 25th – Edinburgh
We went around with a girl from France we had met at the hostel and with whom we got along fairly well. It was super great to be able to meet someone else with whom we could share our travel experience. Our endeavours that day include the following:
• Princes Street Gardens
• Charlotte Square
• Scottish National Gallery
• Mary’s Milk Bar
• Museum of Childhood
• Edinburgh Ghost Tour

Monday October 26th – Glasgow
We got up early to catch a train to Glasgow; it’s the largest city in Scotland but not the capital. It’s a thriving, bustling place that reminds me a little of Ottawa actually. The arts and music scene there was quite vibrant and it was a thoroughly enjoyable day trip. We tried to fit in as much as we could in the twelve hours we were there:
• Buchanan Street
• National Piping Centre
• Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
• The Lighthouse
o Scotland Graphic Design Festival
• Willow Tea Rooms
• Gallery of Modern Art
• Merchant City
• Glasgow City Chambers
• George Square
• National War Memorial
• Glasgow Quay

Tuesday October 27th – Edinburgh/Bristol
Our trip to Scotland came to a close on Tuesday; we had been roaming around for about five days but by this point, I felt like it had been five weeks! We’d seen and done so much, and I’d created so many memories just from this part of my trip alone. On this day, we checked off the rest of the things on our Scotland itinerary that we hadn’t managed to get around to the other days, and we also made a couple of spontaneous stops at places that caught our eye as we wandered around. We got the appreciate the beauty of having control over our plans for the day, marching to the beat of our own drums, and finding ourselves in these places:
• Museum of Edinburgh
• Arthur’s Seat
• Scottish Parliament
• Holyrood Park and Circle

Wednesday October 28th – Dublin
Here, I said goodbye to my Canadian travel buddy for this portion of the trip and got myself on a plane to Dublin, Ireland. I have a friend studying at the University of Galway whom I met while he was on exchange in Ottawa last year; with Ireland being fairly close to the UK, I thought it’d be nice if we could catch up and we managed to coordinate some time to get together. I had some time in Dublin to myself before meeting up with him and so I ambled around and made up my plans as I went along. I started off with absolutely no clue as to what there was to see in Dublin, but I quickly discovered that Dublin was something of a gem:
• Talbot and O’Connell St
• Custom House
• St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral
• Trinity College Dublin
• Doug Harding Art Gallery
• St. Stephen’s Green
• The Spire
• Dublin Castle and Gardens
• Christchurch Cathedral
• Temple Bar
• Abbey Theatre

Thursday October 29th – Dublin
My first day in Dublin had given me a better sense of what things were like in the city, and I had more of a plan as to what I wanted to do with my second day in Dublin. I was a little more prepared and armed myself with a checklist of to-do’s for my day. I met up with my friend that evening as well, so I didn’t have to worry too much in regards to how I would fill my day.
• Parnell Monument
• Book of Kells and the Long Hall Library at Trinity College Dublin
• Art Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin
o Exhibition of Secrets
• Oscar Wilde Monument
• Merrion Square Park
• National Defence Memorial
• Fusiliers Arch
• Grafton St.
• Irish Guinness

Friday October 30th – Dublin/Galway
I had the morning and early part of the afternoon to make sure I had done most of what I had hoped to do, although if you remember or if you read that bit, I said I came to Dublin with nothing that really resembled a plan so making sure I had met my goals wasn’t very hard. However, I knew I had wanted to go to the James Joyce Centre after having seen a brochure for it at the hostel I stayed at. Just the week before, we had finished reading Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in my Irish Lit class, and the book had, to put it bluntly, gone completely over my head, and I wanted to see if going to an exhibit wholly dedicated to Joyce could open my mind at all to better appreciate his brilliance. That was my mission for the day, and it almost turned into something of an impossible mission. Luckily, I get to say that I managed to turn it into mission possible, and I got to spend the 3 hour bus ride to meet my friend in Galway feeling quite pleased with myself.
• Dublin Writers Museum
• The James Joyce Centre
• Bus to Galway
• Shop St. in Galway

Saturday October 31st – Galway
My friend very graciously gave up his Saturday for working on his paper to show me around Galway and give me the grand tour. It was not disappointing in the least and I also got to experience Halloween in Ireland, which was very cool. Being in Galway with a local let me experience the city in a different way, and that was something I found to be appealing. It’s definitely nice when you can walk around knowing you won’t get lost.
• Weekend Market
• St. Nicholas Cathedral
• Charley Byrnes Bookshop
• Eyre Square
• Docks
• Museum of Galway

Sunday November 1st – Galway to Bristol/Exeter
This day concluded one of the most incredible experiences I had ever had and one of which I will have amazing memories to look back on for a long time to come. I kind of feel like the weather mirrored my trip all the way through because a thick fog began to set over Galway as I was leaving (or maybe I’m just making connections out of thin air because a fog had descended across most of the UK that day).
• University of Galway
• Travelling back to Exeter

When I finally made it back to Exeter after several flight delays, I was considerably sleep deprived; I think I actually walked into a couple of walls. I still had to go to class as it was Monday by the time I returned so I went to get coffee from Costa. I gave my order to the barista and had a nice little chitchat with him about the little nothings of everyday. As he handed me my coffee, he asked me, “Where’s your accent from? Is it Irish?” I responded to that with a laugh and a very Canadian “Sorry, no, I’m from Canada.” This little episode was extremely amusing to say the least; I knew my trip had been deeply impressionable but I didn’t think it ran that deep, but hey, what do I know?